“People have written to me from all over the country who have gone through this process (family court) which is so traumatic and it’s so easy for the children’s voices to get lost amongst the process and the trauma of the separation. And it’s so hard for the people to get out of their situation..and what I’d like to say to them today is this is the start of the hope, this is the start of the journey for change for all children…” ~ Claire Throssel
“Protecting Children from a Violent Parent”– Mother Claire Throssel appears on “The Victoria Derbyshire Show” sharing her heartbreaking story of how her two sons Jack and Paul were murdered after being court ordered to visit their abusive father, and how she is fighting to make needed changes in family court in memory of her children.
Claire told social services her ex-husband, Darren Sykes, was capable of hurting the boys. Jack and Paul both also expressed fear of their father, and begged not to go on visits. Despite this, visits continued until the deaths of the both children.
In October 2014, Sykes, father, lured Jack (12) and Paul (9) into the attic of his home in Penistone, South Yorkshire, with the promise that a model train set was waiting for them. Once Jack and Paul were in the attic, Sykes locked them inside and then ignited 16 different fires inside the house. Sykes barricade other exits to the house to prevent escape, and even left a patio door partially open to fan the flames. Sykes then committed suicide. Claire recalls that Sykes was jealous of her relationship with the children.
Both children also died in the fire. Paul died in his mother’s arms soon after being rushed to the hospital. Claire remembers the doctor telling her, “We can’t save him, all you can do is hold him…” Jack survived for 5 precious days, long enough to declare that his father intentionally set the fire, before he also succumbed to injuries, 50% of his body was covered in burns.
Claire Throssel is now advocating for reform in family court with the UK based advocacy group Women’s Aid. She also advocates for increased training for judges and court professionals on domestic abuse, including emotional abuse and coercive control.
Victoria Derbyshire also talks, during this episode, with Clive Coleman about the campaign launched by the charity Women’s Aid to make family courts safer for children in cases where domestic abuse or a risk of harm exists. The efforts of Women’s Aid resulted in historic reform measure called Practice Direction 12J which is now being implemented in every family court in the UK (as of 10/2/2017).
Family law attorney Lucy Reed also joins the discussion to talk about domestic abuse and the intersection of family court, and to weigh in on Practice Direction 12J. This is a very informative episode of The Victoria Derbyshire show that you won’t want to miss!
Practice Direction 12J requires judges to take certain actions in cases where domestic abuse or child abuse allegations are raised.
An Outline – Practice Direction 12J (Domestic Abuse):
- The court presumes the role of both parents in a child’s life is in their best interest unless there is evidence to the contrary.
- Expands the definition of Domestic Abuse to include psychological, physical, sexual, financial, emotional, or culturally specific abuse as well as coercive and controlling behavior. Culturally specific forms of abuse include, but are not limited to, forced marriage, child marriage, honour-based violence, dowry-related abuse and marriage abandonment.
- The court must make safety a priority in cases involving abuse for both the child and for the parent whom the child is living with. Custody and visitation orders should not expose either to further harm.
- The court cannot compel parties to participate in resolution or conciliation efforts which are not suitable or not safe.
- If the court is advised by any party, or by CPS or social services, that there is a need for special arrangements to protect the party or child during proceedings, the court must ensure proper arrangements until no longer necessary.
- When considering allegations of domestic abuse or child abuse in proceedings, family court judges must follow specific recommendations. Before issuing a custody or visitation order, the court must explain why contact ordered does not pose a risk to the child and is in the child’s best interest.
- Specific practices are mandated for courts when handling cases of domestic abuse or child abuse when findings of abuse are substantiated, or allegations are admitted. “The court should make an order for contact only if it is satisfied that the physical and emotional safety of the child and the parent with whom the child is living can, as far as possible, be secured before during and after contact, and that the parent with whom the child is living will not be subjected to further domestic abuse by the other parent…”
Learn More: Practice Direction 12J (Domestic Abuse)
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Domestic abuse and coercive control is ‘silent killer’ (Claire Throssel story in video, BBC News)
‘He wanted to take everything from me’: Grief-stricken mother whose two children were murdered by their father in a house fire reveals agony of her sons’ final moments (Daily Mail)
United Kingdom Implements Historic Measures to Improve Safety in Family Court for Abuse Victims and Their Children